Tia Williams was frustrated with the lack of effort and urgency from local shelters toward helping Miami-Dade’s growing stray cat population. So she decided she had to take matters into her own hands.
“We’ve been telling the county that they haven’t been doing enough when it comes to resourcing and budgeting,” Williams said.
She is now working on opening a cat clinic and is searching for a veterinarian team that will spay and neuter the strays brought in.
Williams, who refers to the felines as “patients,” has seen too many fragile, sickly and vulnerable cats roaming the streets of Miami while she’s been working in a program known as “trap, neuter, vaccinate and return” — TVNR.
TNVR, run by volunteers and vets, is an attempt to combat the worsening stray cat problem.
Williams said that over the last 10 years, 12,000 cats on average have been fixed annually but 18,000 cats were spayed and neutered last year. With the resources and the budget that the county has, she believes that the number should be closer to 25,000 cats every year.
The TVNR program works like this: Trappers are notified by the ASPCA and the community in order to prepare for the capture of the feral cats. Once the area has been scoped out, cages hidden in shrubbery and filled with bait are set out to lure nearby cats. After being caught, they are taken to veterinary clinics where they are spayed, neutered, vaccinated and then returned to the wild.
“The truth is that there are so many outside cats in South Florida and we are not keeping up with the birth cycle,” Williams said, referring to the number of kittens being born compared with the number being fixed. “Much more spay and neuter needs to happen to even begin to impact the next cycle of kittens.”
More clinics are needed to make a dent in the problem, those involved said.
“We are trying to help north of Miami-Dade County and Broward because there isn’t a place in that area to do TNVR,” said Dr. Brigitt Rok-Potamkin, an animal advocate who supports funding the new clinic. Miami-Dade and Broward counties will be funding the spay and neuter services.
Cat Solutions 305 is a non-profit organization that is working toward opening their own clinic in early 2024, devoted to community cats.
Community cats are feral, outdoor cats that have been treated and fixed but released back to the area they were found in. They are marked by an “ear tip,” in which a small portion of the top of an ear is surgically removed in a straight line cut. The distinctive mark indicates the cats have already been treated.
In mid-November, the group held its first spay and neuter events at the new building that is currently under renovation. They hit their goal of treating 100 cats over the two days. Once the facility is fully up and running, hope to fix up to 14,000 cats a year.
The organization has requested $500,000 from Miami-Dade County and Broward County is chipping in $300,000 per year.
Experts said that misconceptions surrounding stray cats are making their job harder.
Cats are in constant heat because of the hot South Florida climate, increasing the reproduction rate and causing some cats to have three to four litters every year.
“The biggest issue is that people don’t like to get the males fixed because they think getting the females fixed solves the problem,” said Sean Paquet, Miami-Dade Animal Services shelter clerk.
But male cats will travel up to five miles from their home to find a female.
“Once a female is pregnant she is pregnant for the duration,” said Paquet, explaining that unfixed male cats can repeatedly impregnate females non-stop, while females experience stagnant breeding periods while they are pregnant, typically 60-70 days. “Males are the most important because there is no end to them, whether they are four months old or 16 years old.”
The neuter procedure is less invasive due to its simplicity — all that is required is a simple snip.
“We could do 100 males in a fraction of the time of doing 50 females,” said Williams.